Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Clear Mandate: The CPRC and Martin Gaspar Pablo

*****Former Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer, Jose Luis Nazario, jr. acquitted*****

""It's something I wouldn't forget. That face, the dread," he testified. "... That's the face I saw on both of these men."

"I would deem it the worst day in my life."

----Former Marine Cory Carlisle testified in federal court about seeing two detainees after the others were killed.

"He basically said he doesn't want to do this all by himself and if anybody wants to take care of the other two. I said, 'I'll do it.' "

---Former Marine James Prentice testifying in federal court. Soon after, Carlisle or Weemer escorted him out of the residence as two more shots were heard being fired.

Probe the death of Martin Gaspar Pablo.

So urges ACLU attorney, Peter Bibring who wrote an opinion article for the Press Enterprise which was published this week. Bibring, who specializes in police practices, also spoke in front of the Community Police Review Commission at a special meeting held on Sept. 13 on his interpretation of City Charter Section 810(d) and the role that the CPRC played in investigating and reviewing officer-involved deaths. After hearing his opinion and asking him questions, the commission voted 5 to 3 to initiate an investigation into the death of Martin Gaspar Pablo, 38, which occurred over a month ago on July 11.

Bibring expands further in his opinion piece while sharing the same points that he had made at the meeting in front of an audience which packed a City Hall conference room drawn by the chain of events which took place in the month after Pablo died.


A full month after Pablo's death, the commission rightly defied the city attorney and its own executive director by voting 5-3 to launch a preliminary investigation. But there may yet be pressure on the commissioners to abandon their inquiry.

They should not.

In fact, the commission's involvement in the Pablo case should not even be controversial. According to The Press-Enterprise and the Riverside Police Department's own press release, police officers responded to a call about a man banging on the back door of a residence. Upon arriving, they discovered Pablo, who appeared to be disoriented, and handcuffed and detained him before determining that he was in medical distress.

The officers called an ambulance, but Pablo died at Riverside Community Hospital barely 90 minutes after police first made contact.

Clear Mandate

This is a clear-cut example of a case that needs commission review. Riverside's city charter requires the commission to investigate any death "arising out of or in connection with" the actions of a police officer, whether or not a complaint has been filed. That's a broad mandate to look into any death connected to the police. The charter doesn't limit investigations to deaths that suggest police misconduct.

When police arrived, they treated Pablo as a criminal suspect and detained him, but by the end of the encounter, he was in medical distress that ultimately resulted in his death. Those facts alone make his death sufficiently "connected with" police to trigger an investigation under the charter. But in addition, a large body of medical research shows that police use of restraints and certain kinds of force on people in agitated states can contribute to cardiac arrest and death.

Nevertheless, several local officials have urged the commission not to investigate, for a variety of reasons. And the city attorney went so far as to say that commission members could be prosecuted for investigating the Pablo incident -- an opinion that can only be based on a untenable reading of the city charter.

Some commissioners have said they don't need to investigate because it doesn't sound like the police caused Pablo's death -- at least not according to the Police Department's press release. Others have contended that they would like to hear what the department can tell them about the Pablo incident before deciding on a course of action.

All of this amounts to rationalizations that would shrink the power of the commission to a shadow of what's required by the city charter and what's needed for meaningful civilian oversight.

It will be interesting to see what City Attorney Gregory Priamos' response is to the ACLU's challenge of his own interpretation of the provision in the city charter that he authored, but did so in the vein mandated to him by the legislative body which employs him. There will no doubt be a response from that office, most likely in opposition. But will Priamos charge the five individuals who voted to investigate with violating the city charter to the tune of a misdemeanor? That remains to be seen as does the outcome of any investigation conducted by the CPRC of Pablo's death.

At least one commissioner said that she had saved $1,000 in her bank account to pay any fine that may be issued out in response to the vote taken on Aug. 13 just in case.

One eyewitness to the fatal shooting of a motorist by an off-duty police officer later identified as Antonio Mendez, 27, provided his account of what took place.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Joe Varela, a salesman at the Seven Oaks Nursery, watched the incident unfold.

"A truck came into the parking lot at a high rate of speed with screeching tires, and I started to walk over there to tell him to slow down," Varela said.

But then the Hummer pulled into the parking lot and a man jumped out with a gun, Varela said.

"I didn't know he was a cop," Varela added. "(Mendez) kept telling him to get down on the ground two or three times, but he wouldn't listen. He just kept walking forward aggressively like he wanted to fight."

As the driver of the truck closed the distance, Mendez shot him in the chest at close range, Varela said.

"I didn't hear him identify himself and I didn't see his badge at all," Varela said. "At the time, he just seemed like some guy to me, but given the warnings, I don't know why the other guy didn't get down on the ground. It was obvious that the next thing that was going to happen was that he was going to get shot."

Other people at the scene reacted as well.


"I don't care who you are, you call 911 in that situation," said Wayne Southworth, a salesman at the nursery. "You don't chase someone down the freeway, pull a gun on him, tell him to get down on the ground and shoot him. He was a trained policeman -- he didn't need to shoot him."

"Everybody in the neighborhood is so upset. It's so sad and so wrong," said Rose Darrah, who lives in a mobile home park across from the shooting.

"He had a baby in the backseat. Who would drive like that with a baby in the car? And then to pull out a gun in the parking lot in front of everyone -- it's shocking to see that kind of thing in your neighborhood especially from a police officer," Darrah said.

The wife of Robert Scott Day who was the motorist spoke out against the killing of her husband.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Jennifer Day said she, too, is trying to find out what she can about her husband's killing and what led up to it. Day concedes her husband had a criminal past, including convictions in Orange County for burglary and robbery, but those problems were history. He worked as a carpenter and was a good father, she said.

"He changed his life a lot from when he was running wild," she said.

The couple was estranged, she said, but they were trying to work things out.

"I don't know what was going through my husband's mind," said Day, who is living in Napa. "But that didn't mean he had to die.

Day tearfully remembered marrying her husband in January -- they both wore jeans to the City Hall wedding -- and the birth of the couple's 10-month- old daughter, Haley.

"What am I going to tell her?" Day asked.

The criminal history may have bearing in this case, depending in part on how old it was but my first reaction to this incident wasn't that it was how a law enforcement officer would act but actually the opposite. It didn't seem how a professional law enforcement officer would respond at all. Speeding down a highway "recklessly" (according to at least one 911 phone call to the CHP) with a young child in the back seat. Given that law enforcement officers are trained to minimize the danger and maximize the safety of those around them, did this officer do that?

Did this officer call for backup or call 911 himself for assistance? Did the individual he was pursuing have any reasonable expectation of knowing a law enforcement officer in a hummer was pursuing him and not someone with road rage in a hummer? As one identified law enforcement officer said as a comment to one of the articles, not having lights and a siren greatly complicates the situation for a pursuit and being from the Los Angeles Police Department, Mendez should have been mindful of that complication and danger given that this agency has discussed, debated and revised its vehicle pursuit policy more extensively than any other agency in Southern California.

There are numerous discussion threads in connection with the articles and what's been posted on Belo Blog. Most recently this one. It's rare to read an article or blog entry in the Press Enterprise that's received such a response so this incident has clearly struck a chord with different groups of people.

What is a bit strange is that the discussions begin with whether or not individuals agree or disagree with the actions taken by Los Angeles Police Department Officer Antonio Mendez and then take off in a direction where individuals start talking about the Riverside Police Department which has no part in the incident which took place in Corona nor were any of its employees involved in the incident or the investigation. Perhaps it's because a large proportion of readers live or work in Riverside and are thus more likely to interface with Riverside's police officers than those in other agencies. But there's very little mention of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department which is doing the investigation, the CHP which is investigating the alleged hit and run incident and the LAPD which employs Mendez. Nor the Corona Police Department for that matter.

One visitor called "The Truth" tries to set everyone straight on Riverside's police department and raises some interesting issues in his or her comments.

(excerpt, Belo Blog)

"Everyone is jumping on law enforcement. A lot of officers are in jail. You just don't hear about it. They are placed in protective custody for obvious reasons, just as rapists, because the general population has a problem with following laws, hence why they are in jail. Everyone acts like this idiot who got killed was some sort of saint? Why in the hell are you hitting people on the freeway and running? Let me guess, no license, no insurance and/or a warrant?

The people who have problems with law enforcement are usually dumb kids (I'm sorry, "young adults") or criminals. Usually drug addicts. But they can't figure out why law enforcement has a problem with them. I also love how everyone is an expert in law enforcement. Never been trained, only hear stuff from the media, yet they can complete this lengthy investigation in 30 seconds with the limited facts. It doesn't matter. If the suspect advanced in a matter that could of caused harm to the officer or his child, he should of shot and killed him. Also, everyone with a problem with law enforcement.

Do me a favor.

Next time something happens, DO NOT call for any sort of law enforcement. Since you know everything and do not like cops. I'm sure you can handle the armed illegal immigrant with a gun to your family members head. Right? If you can complete the investigation in 30 seconds, you can defuse a hostage situation even quicker, due to all your media training. A little bit of news and some COPs? Sounds about right. One last thing.

The person with "RPD harassing a family memeber", your full of it. Whats your family member been in for? Weapons charges, gang charges and also drug charges? They one of those know it all pot head "young people", who think they got it all figured out? They dress like one of these idiot kids dressed in all black, looking like a complete idiot? I know it falls into one of the above. So lets let the professionals handle the investigation instead of all you amature investigators."

"Whatever" responds to the above comments.


Hey "The Truth" - I read your little comment about the RPD and I am a witness to the RPD harassing people for no reason. A few family members in our household have been pulled over for no reason. My husband and my 2 bros give or take at least twice a month have been pulled over and let they're not gang bangers, no they don't dress in black, no they're not drug heads or drug dealers. My husband and brothers are 3 hardworking men, pretty built, and none of them have a record. So what's the problem? Ask the racist time my husband was on his way home from work a little after 11pm, stopped at the credit union on Magnolia/Tyler to get some money for a late food run b4 coming home, and who flashes their lights on him?? Riverside PD...straight asked him what's his purpose at the ATM?? Then tried to make some bogus excuse for their reason of pulling up on him. I can go on for days about RPD, but then this will turn into a novel.

Yes we've filed complaint after complaint against RPD and of course we never hear any response back, just the usual..."we're looking into" letter they always send out.

So uh to "The Truth" RPD do harass people for no reason, and there are those in the field who abuse their authority, my family can testify to it.

So does "S".


Ive been beat up personally by a group of 5 on duty rpd's. Im white, I wear nice clothes, no record. I laughed at a cop and guess what... he brought his other cops back and showed me how tough they were. nice. Ive been pulled over 4 times for meeting a discription only to sit there with a gun pulled on me listenin to a cop act like Im an idiot hopin his finger doesnt slip. Im 30. I guess thats a "punk kid" or young adult to these cops that look 15. I'm sure you've been trained to aim a weapon... whats the problem with shooting someone in the leg? High speed chase with a kid? sounds logical.

If that was me I'd be in jail for murder and child protective services would be all over me. Investigations? ha! It's funny how all these street cops act like they know somethin. Did you learn all the laws while you were in your 2 week police acadamy law school takin your bar exams? You act like cops are always there to save the day. You do realize that you show up after an incident and assess and assist right? I sure dont believe me calling you will help my chances of protecting myself while someones robbing me at gunpoint. I feel safer on my own without some nerd from high school actin like he "deserves" respect.

And then there's "Justice".

I agree with the majority of folks on this blog. There is no reason for this shooting. I live in Riverside County and am neighbor to many police officers from departments all across Southern California. I can tell you that the majority do act like the laws do not apply to them.

I am definitely in favor of more psychological testing and screening. If you are not on duty, you should be treated like an ordinary citizen. I agree with Trisha - Lawman you have a twisted view of law enforcement. Living among police officers, I can attest that the best thing to do is avoid them and stay away.

I find they are hypocritical in their private lives as well. I have only ran into one good officer/person out of the 10+ that live in my neighborhood. I see them speeding in their personal cars around the neighborhood, side swiping us while on their police issued motorcycles, bad mouthing other neighbors, spying, etc. And for the record, I have never had a run in with the law, I'm just a typical white collar professional who fate has been to have them as neighbors.

Still, there was also discussion that focused on the incident involving Mendez that was also apparent. One individual who was talking about the Corona shooting said that his friend was at the scene.

(excerpt, Belo Blog)

Actually, the cop did tell the man he was a cop, before he even had his gun out... I know this becuase my friend was at the scene....He said the officer had told him that he was a cop, and that the guy was acting crazy and angry, and that he was told to stay where he was, not get closer, but he lunged at the cop....

A man was arrested for allegedly trying to slash the tire of a Riverside Police Department squad car in the parking lot of the Magnolia Police Station.

More reports of the testimony by former Marines who served in the squad of their former sergeant, Jose Luis Nazario, jr. who is facing manslaughter charges in federal court in connection with the shooting deaths of Iraqi detainees in Fallujah in 2004. Nazario, a former Riverside Police Department officer was charged last year after an investigation was initiated by the Navy Criminal Investigation division when they found out that another Marine sergeant, Ryan Weemer discussed the incident while being given a polygraph test for a job in the Secret Service.

One of those testifying was James Prentice who was assigned to Nazario's squad.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Prentice said he heard Nazario call someone on his radio and explain that they had found four "military-aged males" and two AK-47s and asked what to do.

He said he saw Ryan Weemer, the fire team leader, take an older man wearing a white turban and traditional Arabic clothing into the kitchen. They heard a gunshot and saw Weemer walk out.

Weemer, now a sergeant, and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson have been charged with murder and dereliction of duty in military court. Both have refused to testify in this case and face criminal contempt charges. A Naval Criminal Investigative Services investigation of the killings began after Weemer mentioned the incident during an interview for a job with the Secret Service.

Prentice testified that Nazario took one man into a different room, and he heard one gunshot. Then Nazario returned.

"He basically said he doesn't want to do this all by himself and if anybody wants to take care of the other two," Prentice said.

"I said, 'I'll do it.' "

He didn't. Cory Carlisle had testified that he had talked to Prentice who was upset because one of his friends had been killed earlier that day, to find an "exit" for him out of the residence. As they left, they heard two more gunshots signaling the deaths of the two remaining detainees.

As this trial is taking place, another incident involving the killing of four other detainees came to light. The men were blindfolded, handcuffed and then shot in the head on the banks of a canal.

(excerpt, Reuters)

According to Leahy's statement, cited by the NYT, Army officials directed Hatley's convoy to release the men because there was insufficient evidence to detain them.

"First Sergeant Hatley then made the call to take the detainees to a canal and kill them," as retribution for the deaths of two soldiers from the unit, Leahy said in his statement.

"So the patrol went to the canal, and First Sergeant, Sgt. First Class Mayo and I took the detainees out of the back of the Bradley (fighting vehicle), lined them up and shot them," he added, according to The Times. "Then we pushed the bodies into the canal and left."

Also presented to the jury in the trial in Riverside was a tape recorded conversation that Nazario had with Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson who is facing court martial in connection with the shootings.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

As their final piece of evidence, prosecutors played the recording of a phone call between Nazario and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, one of two Marines in Nazario's squad facing charges at Camp Pendleton.

During the call, recorded at the request of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Nelson sought to get Nazario to incriminate himself.

On the tape, Nelson, using a derogatory word for the Iraqis, asked Nazario who gave the order to kill the prisoners. Nazario replied, "I did."

He then told Nelson they had no time to process the Iraqis as prisoners because "we were moving."

"What we did wasn't illegal. . . ," Nazario said. "You can't play Monday-morning quarterback."

The conversation took place Jan. 8, 2007, as military and civilian investigators were probing the deaths. By then, Nazario had left the Marines and was a probationary Riverside police officer.

In the trial of Nazario not long after the prosecutor rested his case, it was handed off to the jurors to deliberate over Nazario's fate. With two of the alleged participants in the killings opting to not testify and Nazario not taking the witness stand, the trial wound up being fairly short.

The defense had rested without calling a single witness. It will find out soon enough whether that was enough.

Before the jury began deliberating, both attorneys gave their closing statements.

(excerpt, Belo Blog)

Nazario disregarded his duty and "committed an act that was criminal'' -- even on the battlefield, a federal prosecutor told a Riverside jury today.

``If you find the defendant did not abide by the rules, no matter how he might have fought or how many days he spent in the military, if he violated the `law of war' that day, you have a duty to find him guilty,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Behnke told the civilian panel.

``The government believes the evidence fully establishes that these ... persons had given up and surrendered,'' Behnke said in his closing statement.

Acquittal or conviction, will the trial verdict establish a precedent?

Menifee is trying to figure out how it's going to work its contract out with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The goal is to hold steady or increase the current level of police services, Councilman John Denver said.

Denver and Councilman Scott Mann sat down last week with law enforcement officials, including Capt. James McElvain, who oversees patrol of the Menifee area, and looked at the service packages the Sheriff's Department offers. The Menifee City Council will negotiate the contract, including services and costs, in coming weeks.

One change that probably will take effect with the new contract is that patrol cars assigned to the area will be emblazoned with "Menifee" on their sides.

Keeping the present number of police would cost the city about $7.5 million a year, which is close to the public-safety cost estimate set in the fiscal analysis that paved the way for cityhood, Denver said. However, more police services may be in order because the city's population of about 68,000 exceeds the 60,000 estimate used in the fiscal study.

McElvain said the biggest crime issues facing Menifee are property theft and vehicles being broken into and stolen. He added that vandals prey on homes left vacant because of foreclosure. To date, McElvain said, the overall crime rate in 2008 for the Menifee area is down 21.5 percent from the previous year.

"Some people might say we need more services. A city might be wealthy enough to buy and buy and buy. But there is a leveling point when no matter how much more service you purchase, you start to see diminishing returns," he said.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board has some advice for individuals running for political office when it comes to receiving campaign donations


Politicians always say contributions do not influence their votes, but voters have a hard time believing all those donors are mere altruists. Why would special interests spend so much on politics if the money did not further their goals somehow?

The state could revise the law to put elected officials under the same constraints as appointed officials, who cannot receive such contributions for a year before or three months after a vote. But that change would mainly disguise any link between donation and vote by obscuring the timeline, without severing the connection.

So voters' best course is to follow the money trail and judge for themselves whether their city council is up for sale.

Scrupulous city officials will refrain from taking donations from people with matters before the city. The rest can explain to voters why that ethical high road is just too hard to navigate.

A very salient point of view on a controversial issue, but will its advice be taken? Election 2009 provides in Riverside a tremendous opportunity to sit up close and watch to see if the local politicians do take that advice seriously.

The Riverside County Superior Court is falling behind again in hearing cases.

Menifee has picked out its brand new city hall.

Redlands former treasurer has accepted a plea bargain in the case of the missing money.

A retired Pasadena Police Department officer was arrested on suspicion of committing a bank robbery but is he linked to the crimes of the "polite bandit"?

The new Police Assessment Resources Center's newsletter is out!

Some of the articles include progress reports from court mandated reform efforts in Washington, D.C, Cincinnati and Oakland. Also further information on the implementation of civilian oversight in New Orleans, Atlanta and Providence, Rhode Island.

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